The autumn chill is setting in, at least for most of each day, the farmers markets are abundant with harvest foods like corn and squash, and the rain has brought relief from the worst drought Washington state has ever seen. Though it’s getting colder, the afternoons are still generally warm and unseasonably sunny, so we’re taking advantage of them. Some of these may seem old hat standards, but I challenge you in each one to find something new within your own sphere of resources.
Every year we, and many other families, head out to local farms. For some people, it’s the only time of year they visit a farm, when most growth has died back, and the last of the bounty is ready to be claimed, especially in the form of future jack-o-lanterns. But hidden around every community are farms which prove undervalued gems. Take a look at a map of farms in your area — Google Maps is great for this — and try to find the one absolutely closest to you. If you’ve been to it before, skip it and move to the next closest. For us, we recently discovered that we’re just a FIVE MINUTE DRIVE from an incredible resource: KIS Farm.
They’re not only a good source for farming needs, including livestock feed, but they’ve got a lot of livestock on site for children to come and experience. Learning is central to their mission, and there are even parent-child preschool classes each season! We’ll be signing up for one in spring, if I have my way.
We cuddled chickens, fed piglets, and took a walk by a hidden stream. KIS Farm has been on Avondale for about three years now, but everytime we passed it, I just dismissed it as a place that didn’t concern us unless we needed some good soil. Boy how I was wrong! This is going to be our default field trip spot whenever we don’t have a lot of time in the future!
We’ll still be heading out to our favorite corn maze this year (as we have in years past), and in the next couple of weeks, I’m determined to head to Woodinville Lavender to take a quick tour and grab some of their fragrant harvest, though we’ll be sure to visit when the flowers are in bloom.
“The bee is in the lavender, the honey fills the comb.”
—Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey
You’re not likely to find a lot of berries left on trails this time of year, but with many trees turned red, orange, yellow, or gone bare, the changed landscape can make even the most familiar of hikes seem a new mystery to explore. Whether you’ve got a favorite, well-worn trail your family visits again and again, or your’e just heading out for your first time along a strange path, keep note of what you see. Mark places on a map or in a journal that seem particularly noteworthy. Come back again in winter, spring, and summer, to see how each has changed.
And don’t worry too much about weather. Unless there’s chance of real bodily harm (e.g. lightning strikes, flash floods, hurricanes, etc.), around here, I’m teaching my kids the old Scandinavian wisdom, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.”
Spring may be four or five months off, but there’s no reason to let the garden go unnoticed. There are plenty of spots that need care this time of year, and children can be a great help. Though we don’t have much luck with bulb plants thanks to our neighborhood slug thugs, we do find it’s the best time of year to plant winter greens like lamb’s lettuce (a.k.a. mache, corn salad), to cut back overgrowth from the summer, and to plan for the next year’s plantings. This is also the time of year for nurturing the soil with cover crops, natural fertilizers, and compost.
We’re doing a lot of work in our yard to reshape it and take claim of more land from the forest surrounding us. Next year, if we keep working through fall and winter, we should have plenty of space to play with, and plenty of structures to use to do so. We’ll be employing a lot of permaculture techniques such as keyhole gardens, herb spiral, vertical planting, and bermaculture (planting on a mound in which several logs have been placed to rot).
We talk a lot about roleplaying here, in part because we’re consummate gamers. I had to stop gaming for the most part because I’d actually shown signs of addiction in my teens and early twenties. But when it comes to having fun with my kids, live action roleplaying is a fantastic way to teach history, culture, creativity, strategy, and so much more. It engages our bodies, gets us outside, and gets us interacting in cooperative ways. There are enough game systems out there now, that you can do more than historical reenactment or high fantasy, though both are quite fun for their own merit. You can be vampires, werewolves, urban wizards, modern fairies, a starship crew, and on and on.
Or if you want to buck most systems and just create your own fun adventures outside, might I suggest taking a page from the web comic Dresden Codak and engage in some Historical Preenactment? (Though I do recommend, if you’re new to roleplaying, at least look at the rule systems for a given game, so you can have a basis upon which to play. Make certain it’s a LARP or Live Action Role Play game.) Let the kids extrapolate what the future holds, and play to their imaginations!
CLIMB A TREE OR SOME ROCKS
I’m a bit of a coward when it comes to climbing things, but my daughter has loved climbing up vertical surfaces since she was her brother’s age. At one and a half, she scaled a bookshelf almost to the top before I could stop her. She loved climbing walls (supervised) and climbing trees (whenever I wasn’t looking, or she was with friends) through her childhood. My son isn’t big on climbing so much as riding, but he’s also not old enough to participate in the Tree Climbing classes presented by a local teacher. If you’re in the Seattle/Eastside area, I’d recommend checking out Katie Oakley. She’s both an amazing tree climbing teacher, but also a swim teacher to little ones (she works at the pool my son used to take lessons). Make sure, whatever you’re climbing, to wear protective clothing, good shoes, and reliable safety gear.
NATURE SCAVENGER HUNTS
Whether you’re gardening in your back yard, hiking through trails, battling in the park, running through mazes of corn, or just taking a light stroll through the neighborhood, take a look around you. Start looking at what has fallen in the Fall. Make a game of finding one of each of a type of object (e.g. one acorn, one red leaf, etc.) with which to create a collage, or gather several of one item (e.g. whole, fallen leaves, tiny pine cones, etc.; leave the nuts for the critters that need them) in order to make pressed art. When I was little, one of my favorite projects was ironing leaves between two sheets of wax paper and hanging them as ornaments.With my son being so young, I think we’ll be making leaf art for the next few autumns because I adore it so much. We also need to replenish our tiny pine cone collection, since he tossed our former one all over the floor and they were crushed or soiled as they are wont to be when thrown on the floor and left to tiny feet and paws.
Whether your children are small or working their way through high school, volunteering your time as a family can be a rewarding adventure. Clean up a local park, fundraise or hold food and clothing drives in the community, or help out an elderly or disabled neighbor with their yard work.
And speaking of clothing drives: the homeless in our communities suffer most in these cold months, and while many people who donate food, sweaters, and pants, too often the most needed goods get forgotten: socks, sleeping bags, hats, and mittens in all sizes (children are homeless too). Women could use donated sterile pads, and families with infants need diapers. If you can go door-to-door or hold a local drive, you’ll be doing a great service to those most in need.